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Old 27th August 2017, 15:36   #1
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Default The mythical "ideal vehicle" - Chasing performance, feel & tradition

(I realize that a lot of what I say here applies to cars too, but all the examples I give here are bikes, so thought I should post this in the bikes section. Please move if a different section is more appropriate).

I wanted to share some thoughts around what has me constantly chasing this mythical "ideal vehicle". I say mythical because in my mind at least, this ideal is impossible by definition.

Let me take a step back and describe aspects of this ideal vehicle before I dive into what that means.

For me to lust for a vehicle, that vehicle needs three things. First of that being performance. It needs to go fast. It needs to go fast around corners. Or it needs to be really good off road. It needs to have some amount of bragging rights in terms of sheer performance. The latest BMW S1000R / S1000RR, or KTM Superduke come to mind. These machines are insane. They go 0-60 mph (or 0-100kph) between 2.5 to 3 seconds. They can attack corners like nobody's business. When it comes to handling prowess, the Triumph Daytona 675 or Yamaha R6 come to mind. Scalpels.

The second aspect of bike desirability is brand and tradition. For example, Yamaha. If I am buying Yamaha I am not just buying a bike. I am buying into the Yamaha brand, I am buying into the racing history and all that the company stands for. BMW, the legendary twin engines. Triumph triples. Harley, 45 degree V-twins and heavy cruisers and leather. A new no-name company product with comparable performance just isn't the same. I need history to identify with. The Mustang. The Swift. The Bonneville. The Bullet. These have so much history, cults, these are stuff I grew up lusting after.

Third, I need feel. This is a tricky one, and very subjective. I recently realized that the closer a vehicle gets to perfection in terms of performance, the less "feel" it has. This is what makes the "ideal vehicle" so elusive. A recent test ride of a Street Triple 765 showed me that, and a brief ride on an S1000R had me feeling the same way. These bikes are as close as it gets (in my opinion) to two-wheeled perfection on the street. They handle telepathic, they just go like rockets and its almost like they read your minds.

Which is the problem. These bikes are SO GOOD, it is ridiculously EASY to ride them. Its almost as natural as walking. I think, the ideal pinnacle of performance in the future would be a machine that just reads your thoughts and teleports you there.

But, where's the fun in that? I would never use that instant-teleportation device except as a thing of utility. Part of what makes a vehicle fun is the challenge involved. This is where the aspect of "feel" comes in - feel comes from not just performance, but a challenge in getting that performance. The fact that an R1 can go around a corner fast but you need proper SKILL to do that. The fact that you can scrape floorboards on a big Harley around technical corners, but not everyone can do that - you need solid skill! And that's what gives it feel! This is also why I think the idea of a self-balancing bike is terrible. Its like self-eating food, ugh no thanks!

I was once on a group ride, with the group leader (a track rider) on a GSXR750. I was right behind him on a BMW F800R. That thing is so well engineered, it was ridiculously easy keeping up with him. Granted, he wasn't going for max speed for his skill level, he was intentionally riding keeping newer riders' pace in mind - but he wasn't exactly slow either. He was riding fast enough to have fun himself, and he would pull to the side at intersections to stop for the rest of the group to catch up. To more my bike's credit than to my riding skillsí - I kept up right behind him throughout.

But what really humbled me - and got me thinking - is the lady doing sweep duty riding at the end of the group on her big Harley. It wasn't a Sportster, not even a Dyna, but a big RoadKing with bags and ape hangers! I was truly impressed and humbled. Here I am, priding myself on keeping up on a tiny F800R whereas she was doing pretty much the same thing on a much bigger touring bike!

Later when scraping floorboards on a nice cruiser - a Thunderbird Storm - I realized that I was actually doing slower speeds than I would on the BMW, but I was having WAY more fun! This is because the Thunderbird just took more skill to ride. It also took much more to weave through traffic on it, and had me smiling way more. This got me thinking, maybe there is more to feel than out-and-out performance. Hereís a machine that is actually LESS performant but MORE fun. That thought left me confused. Reminded me of when I went from my Pulsar 150 to a cast-iron Bullet 350.

It is a similar story when I test rode the Street Triple 765 back to back with my old Speed Triple 1050. The Street is objectively the better machine. It goes just as fast in the straights, quicker in corners given equal rider skill, and is just a better bike overall. But it has no feel, no "soul". It is technically a perfect machine. If the Street is a telepathic perfectly trained pet, the Speed on the other hand is a wild animal that you need to tame and keep taming, and will kill you if you don't watch out. Which is why it gives me a kick, and the Street doesn't.

I got to thinking about all this again with Harley's launch of the new 2018 models. The new bikes are completely recreated, new engine, new suspension, new brakes, new chassis, new electronics, everything. The only thing a new Softail has in common with an older Softail is the fact that they are both 45 degree V-twins. Besides that fact, they are completely different. Which is not a bad thing, but Harley traditionalists aren't happy. The lighter, better performing bikes are going to be easier to ride, which means there isn't that much Harley elitism anymore. But should the company hold back from improving for traditionís sake? The last Harley I rode - a LowRider - just felt really dated even compared to metric cruisers. I felt like the chassis was twisting and turning even with mild handling. So no, I think the company should continue to innovate and deliver better and better machines!

I realized that this is the same story with Triumph. John Bloor threw away everything from the Meridien Triumphs and started over from scratch. The only thing the new Triumphs had in common with the old ones is the aesthetic and the fact that they are inline triples. But he went for max performance and feel within these parameters. So tradition is a finicky thing.

This made me realize that chasing tradition has no meaning, especially when also chasing performance. Retro cafe racers are not the real thing, just because they are trying to be retro. The new Bonneville is trying to be the old Bonneville. But the old Bonneville wasn't built around the philosophy of trying to be something else, it was built around the philosophy of being cutting-edge! They didn't name the original Bullet "Bullet" because it was meant to be slow! No, it was meant to be fast and was for its time. So in my mind, the machines that truly pay homage to the original Bonneville / UJMs are the new performance-oriented street-bikes (like Tuono or S1000R), not the retro-styled replicas. Which is also why I am having trouble relating to the new Thruxton or RNineT. On one hand it is trying to keep up tradition with its looks but on the other hand it is aiming for performance. Which means it is middle-of-the-road in both aspects! If I truly wanted tradition, I would rather get an actual 60s Bonneville or a Panhead or a restored RD400! Which, if I do, I would be compromising on performance by today's standards. I would have to be ok with the fact that even a Ninja 650 could pass me with ease.

This makes me conclude - stop chasing all these ideals in one "ideal" vehicle. If you want tradition, go all-out for the real thing and forget performance. Or, go for the best performing machine in its class and forget about history or feel! I feel like this approach is a better road to vehicular happiness than chasing all these ideals in one package.

The solution is probably - isn't it always - owning multiple vehicles.
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Old 29th August 2017, 10:58   #2
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Default Re: The mythical "ideal vehicle" - Chasing performance, feel & tradition

Originally Posted by rajushank84 View Post
I wanted to share some thoughts around what has me constantly chasing this mythical "ideal vehicle". I say mythical because in my mind at least, this ideal is impossible by definition.
An interesting and quite insightful piece you have put forward. Enjoyed reading it .

Finding "The One" is a task on its own, I do agree on your conclusion. There is always an obvious choice between the tradition, feel and performance. It's almost impossible to have the best of everything.

Though if you really think about it, the number of people who would actually be having this conflict would be a very less. In fact, IMO the only people who would even have this kind of mind conflict are those who would be buying vehicles with a traditional history behind the moniker. If they've decided on buying a traditional moniker, this thread will surely create a doubt in their head.

If you really think about it, a person going for an S1000 or a Daytona wouldn't be thinking about the traditional history. A person going for a Bullet won't be thinking about the performance. He/she would rather be associated with the brand and the feel which is associated with it. They wouldn't be going for the performance numbers. A Harley owner wouldn't go drag racing with a Busa. The mentality is different and you pointed it out correctly for the people who want the best of both worlds would in the end own multiple vehicles.

As an enthusiast, these kind of questions do keep on popping up in mind, since the ownership isn't my perspective. Although there are some bikes which have done a good job in keeping the traditional aspect constant whilst adding the performance bit. I'm talking about the Bonneville series (I know you disagree on this ). The Bonnies actually do look good IMO. Even though they are equipped with quite a bit of technology, the vintage look does suit the line-up. Not always the case with bikes these days where everyone is trying to get the "Cafe Racer" look back. Bringing back the old design language with some bits of technology does make sense up to a certain limit. Not everyone can do what Jaguar did with the Lightweight E-Type.

Regarding the aspect of 'feel', that's an individual choice and preference. The feedback and connection with the vehicle is something that's important and is common with cars as well. The same capacity bike will feel different in terms of performance and drivability. There are vehicles which do everything right, but just aren't as fun to drive. Your reference of the Speed and Street triple was spot on.

Okay, after rambling on my random thoughts, here's my take on the performance, feel and tradition. I would any day go for the feel of the bike. Makes more sense to me as I'm not much of a performance based rider (I like fast bikes, but not for setting local records). Not a big fan of tradition as well - History has always been a weak link for me. I admire the looks, but wouldn't go for one.

In fact this could well be a poll for the motoring enthusiasts of the forum. Which is the one quality you would go for? and why?
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